Senator Bongbong Marcos yesterday took the podium to get first crack at interpellating the Senate Committee on Finance Chairman Senator Franklin Drilon on the 2011 budget of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).
Taking cue from the joke of the Chairman that started off the deliberations, Senator Marcos gleefully proceeded to “torture” the Chairman and raised concerns regarding the one major project of the DSWD that aims to apportion more than P21 billion of its proposed 2011 budget: the “Pantawid-Pamilyang Pilipino” Program (4P’s), or more commonly known as the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) Program. In total, this single program has the lion’s share of the DSWD’s budget for 2011, with an allocation of 43%.
Under the said program, which at the outset the Senator first clarified that he was in full support of, the DSWD aims to give cash grants to 2.3 million beneficiaries that belong to the “poorest of the poor”, subject to certain conditions. Conditions for the grant include health check-ups and enrollment and consistent attendance in schools for children until 14 years of age, pre-natal care for pregnant women, and attendance in family-planning sessions for non-pregnant women.
Senator Marcos particularly took issue on the niceties and aspects that betray certain weaknesses in the program, starting from the selection process until implementation. He said that because of the magnitude of the allocated amount, even a single percent of wastage could spell substantial loss to the government. And with the sudden doubling of the budget allocation, he said that the absorptive capacity and preparedness of the Department and the whole implementing system should be increased, not only 100%, but four- or five-fold, for it to possibly meet the expected surge in the demands of the program. Last year, the allocated amount for the CCT program was 50% smaller, at only P12 billion.
Among others details, one weakness that he saw was in the process of selection of beneficiaries. He said that he found some sort of arbitrariness in the elimination process, wherein a whole barangay could automatically not qualify if it did not meet the poverty incidence standards set by the program, in spite of the actual existence of “poorest of the poor” households therein. Other issues are the expected increase in the human resource and administrative demands of the program, and the monitoring of the program. Last, and more importantly, he raised concerns about the sufficiency of the health and educational supplies and social services being offered by the local government units and which are impliedly necessitated by the program.
Senator Marcos consistently stressed the importance of a strong coordination between the Department and the local government units (LGUs). He said that the Department could link up with the LGUs, all the way down to the barangay levels, and make use of their valuable–and more credible–resources. For one, the Department can easily make use of the handy information of the Barangays about their own indigent residents. Secondly, the Department could also tap the LGUs very own health workers and other personnel, who are out there in the field experiencing first-hand the factual premises and assumptions of the program and actually doing related work.
Lastly, Senator Marcos said that these LGUs need financial assistance themselves just in order to meet the supply of social services for the CCT program to work and be successful. The supply component of the program is just as necessary and essential as the cash grant component, because the conditions of the program require the beneficiaries to avail of health and educational services in their respective LGUs. Thus, a sudden surge in the demand for these social services is expected, and the LGUs may not be able to play catch-up. Even before the implementation of the CCT program, he said, these LGUs “have already been operating full-blast”, based on stable actual demands and their actual capacities. Unfortunately, the program does not include financial assistance to the LGUs, which means that they would have to meet these increased demands on their own.
In closing, Senator Marcos clarified that his concerns should be viewed as a healthy challenge for the Department to “beef up” and “make airtight” the CCT program, as to leave no room for abuse and wastage. To reiterate his support for the Department and to show that there were no hard feelings as a result of his “torture”, Senator Bongbong graciously approached the DSWD entourage in the gallery and exchanged pleasantries with Secretary Corazon “Dinky” Soliman and her defender Senator Drilon, who were seated alongside each other.